Theater review: ‘Tiny Kushner’ a cerebral five course meal served by a master chef

In Review

Tiny Kushner

4 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars - 'Smashing'
Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Directed by Tony Taccone
Starring Jim Lichtscheidl, Valeri Mudek, Kate Eifrig, J.C. Cutler
Written by Tony Kushner
www.berkeleyrep.org
Review by
At Berkeley Rep,(l to r) At Berkeley Rep, Valeri Mudek and Kate Eifrig star in the West Coast premiere of Tiny Kushner, a series of short scripts by Tony Kushner. Photo courtesy of mellopix.com
At Berkeley Rep, (l to r) Valeri Mudek and Kate Eifrig star in the West Coast premiere of Tiny Kushner, a series of short scripts by Tony Kushner. Photo courtesy of mellopix.com

Tony Kushner’s mantel is a crowded place—a Pulitzer Prize, two Tony Awards, three Obies, a Golden Globe, an Emmy and the LAMBDA Literary Award for Drama—and he shows why in the Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s reunion production of Tiny Kushner. Tony Taccone, a long-time friend and collaborator, and also artistic director at the Rep, directs the short scripts, a collection of five one-acts.

The inverse of the smash hit American Idiot (but perhaps similar in spirit), Kushner demonstrates his legendary ability to capture the psyche of the American zeitgeist with a ballet of imaginative dialog.

When the Queen of Albania pulls up in a red Mercedes convertible (a gift from Hitler) on the moon to meet cult entertainer Lucia Pamela in “Flip Flop Fly!”, or purgatory, we know we’re in for something marvelously different.

At Berkeley Rep, Jim Lichtscheidl stars in the West Coast premiere of Tiny Kushner, a series of short scripts by Tony Kushner. Photo courtesy of mellopix.com
At Berkeley Rep, Jim Lichtscheidl stars in the West Coast premiere of Tiny Kushner, a series of short scripts by Tony Kushner. Photo courtesy of mellopix.com

Although the plays were written at different times, with diverse, impossibly interesting character intersections, the thread of politics, morality and, as Laura Bush discovers, humanity, bind the narrative. Kushner’s humor, at times cynical and biting, reminds us of a darker reality that exists below the surface.

There is some first rate acting in Tiny Kushner. Riveting, a better descriptor. Especially from Kate Eifrig. In the final play of the evening, as former first lady, she delivers a memorable, spell-binding performance as she talks (and reads her favorite Russian novel) to three dead children dressed only in pajamas.

Jim Lichtscheidl, too, is eminently watchable. In the conveniently named play, “East Coast Ode to Howard Jarvis: a little teleplay in tiny monologues,” he jumps from character to character, all the while narrating, in a one-man Rikers Island-based expose on tax evasion. Just remember: 98. All you need to know.

If there is one challenge in the production, it’s keeping the rhythm. There are hits here (my scorecard: #1, #3 and #5) among—not misses—rather less satisfying results in the mix. Kushner feels at home in therapy sessions; many, extended therapy sessions (with Sopranos references a welcome bonus). The scenes wear on maybe a tad long, but the dialog: never so calculating, observational has a schizophrenic lent itself to our collective, inner dialog. A tennis match of ambivalent proportions!

Tiny Kushner requires mental investment. A night out with the boys, this is not. For those willing, it provides a unique lens into the mind of a brilliant playwright.

It’s the kind of play that smiles, then drills into your brain and inner conscious with delightful glee; re-wiring your perspective of life and the world is only icing on the cake.

The Plays

  • Flip Flop Fly!
  • Terminating or Sonney LXXV or “lass Meine Schmerzen Nicht Verloren Sein” or Ambivalence
  • East Coast Ode to Howard Jarvis: a little teleplay in tiny monologues
  • Dr. Arnold A. Hutschnecker in Paradise
  • Only We Who Guard the Mystery Shall be Unhappy

Tiny Kushner
An Evening of Short Plays
Berkeley Repertory Theatre
www.berkeleyrep.org
October 16 – November 29
Thrust Stage
Two acts, 15 minute intermission

Noteworthy
    Berkeley_Rep_Kushner3_lr
    Berkeley Rep presents the West Coast premiere of Tiny Kushner, a series of short scripts by legendary playwright Tony Kushner. Photographer: Mike Habermann
  • The cast, including Jim Lichtscheidl dressed in a smart plaid hat (according to Loni), could be seen mingling later at the after-party in the courtyard.
  • Catering by Tomatino was excellent; the first time I can recall at an opening night at any theater where every single dish and food item was worthy of repeat performances.
  • Moon artists unite! Berkeley Rep provides the Crayolas, you provide the imagination. Check the lobby for an interactive coloring exhibit; is Loni’s SSC work of art still hanging?
  • Lunar Libation! Yes, it’s an evening of exclamation marks. This time, the drinks. Again, fun times, as the Berk offers up a quad-core of aptly named drinks: Shot to the Moon! Tax Evader, Hendryck Shmendrick, Lucia Pamela. Don’t worry it will all come into focus after the show—or not.
  • The Berkeley Rep uses two stages, Roda and Thrust, alternating productions through the ’09/10 season.
  • This review marks the first time the word “zeitgeist” has been used on StarkSilverCreek; the last time Clint used that word was in 1987 at Carleton in Canada, where he also used the word “microcosm” to mixed reviews (and to equally lukewarm grades).
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